Is science fiction Jewish?

It's a fair question. Is science fiction Jewish?

Some bloggers say yes, science fiction, is Jewish!

The Exploring Our Matrix blog brings up the question in this way, "Is the Oldest Science Fiction in the Talmud?"

The basis for the question is this text from the Talmud (b. Menahot 29b) which presents Moses as a time traveler.
Rab Judah said in the name of Rab, When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing coronets to the letters.

Said Moses, ‘Lord of the Universe, Who stays Thy hand?’

He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiba b. Joseph by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws’. ‘Lord of the Universe’, said Moses; ‘permit me to see him’. He replied, ‘Turn thee round’.

Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [and listened to the discourses upon the law]. Not being able to follow their arguments he was ill at ease, but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to the master ‘Whence do you know it?’ and the latter replied ‘It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai’ he was comforted.

Thereupon he returned to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, ‘Lord of the Universe, Thou hast such a man and Thou givest the Torah by me!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’.

Then said Moses, ‘Lord of the Universe, Thou hast shown me his Torah, show me his reward’. ‘Turn thee round’, said He; and Moses turned round and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls. ‘Lord of the Universe’, cried Moses, ‘such Torah, and such a reward!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’.
Well beam me up Scottie. I for one am convinced totally that the Talmud has the earliest science fiction!

How Peter Salovey is related to Rav J. B. Soloveitchik

In a comment to a Yale Daily News story, Peter Salovey, president of Yale explained his relationship to Rav Soloveitchik. (Hat tip to Billy.)
My Friends,

Here's how the family tree grows, as I understand it:

First there was Joseph Ha-Levi Soloveitchik of Slobodka and Kovno. He had a son Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Moses and Abraham. Moses had a son, Joseph, who was the rabbi of Kovno and was married to the daughter of Chaim Volozhin. Joseph had two sons, Isaac Zeev and Elijah Zevi. Isaac Zeev was the father to Joseph Ber (Beis Ha-Levi). His son was Chaim Brisker whose sons included Velvele Brisker and Moses. Moses was the father of The Rav, Joseph Dov (Ber) Soloveitchik.

Meanwhile, back to Elijah Zevi. He had a son Simcha (The Londoner), who had a son Zalman Yosef, who had a son Yitzchak Lev (Isaac Louis, my grandfather, who changed the name from Soloveitchik to Salovey when he immigrated to this country from Jerusalem), who had a son Ronald (Azreal), who fathered three children, one of them me!

So, my great-great-great grandfather (Elijah Zevi) and Joseph Dov (Ber) Soloveitchik (The Rav)'s great-great grandfather were brothers.

That should clear things up, no?

My sources for this are the Encyclopedia Judaica; Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman's excellent book, The Soloveitchik Heritage: A Daughter's Memoir; and family legend.

Thanks for the interest in my family.


Peter Salovey


Is Yale President Peter Salovey Jewish?

Yes, Yale President Peter Salovey is a Jew. He is also a psychology professor, a bluegrass musician (see article) and a cousin of my rabbinic teacher, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Hat tip to Billy for bringing this to our attention. Here is an article from the Yale Daily News that describes the president's rabbinic relationships.
Salovey’s rabbinic legacy

In 19th-century Europe, a Rabbinic dynasty arose that would change the face of Orthodox Jewry and the face in Woodbridge Hall. The dynasty’s name would become synonymous with both brilliance and leadership — the Soloveitchiks. Since the mid-19th century, each generation of the Soloveitchik family has produced, and continues to produce, distinguished scholars and important spiritual leaders.

The family traces its origins to Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821), founder of the Volozhin Yeshiva, a new and ambitious model in Jewish education, which effectively centralized and internationalized the Jewish academy. The academy endures as a model for present-day ultra-Orthodox institutions. Chaim Soloveitchik, his great-grandson, went on to become one of the greatest Talmudic scholars of the 19th century, renowned for his highly analytical, innovative and strict teaching of Jewish law, known as the Brisker method. His religious philosophy was profoundly insular, thriving in the isolated Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.

The most well-known of these great Rabbis was perhaps Chaim Soloveitchik’s grandson, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the former dean of Yeshiva University. His influence remains so immense that in some circles he continues to be referred to as simply “The Rav” (The Rabbi). He holds a place as the intellectual inspiration of the Modern Orthodox movement for his work on Torah Umadda — the synthesis of traditional Jewish law and secular knowledge.


Times: Mindful Golf Works

The New York Times in Keeping Your Eye on the Ball reports on studies that prove what we already knew for years, to wit, if you watch the ball at impact as you drive or swing or putt, you will hit a good shot:
Training yourself to keep your eye on the ball -- which most of us don't actually do, it turns out -- can significantly improve golf putting, a new study shows, as well as basketball shooting, soccer penalty kicks and other ball-related activities.
Check out my swing from GE's healthymagination Pavilion at the 2012 The Barclays. http://bit.ly/O9Hws6. That's me compared with golf pro Jim Furyk, I actually keep my eye on the ball too long...

Just about now, by the way, we need some mindful meditative golf.


Our Disproof of Heaven

We read a puff piece in the Times today about "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife" by Dr. Eben Alexander III, "Readers Join Doctor’s Journey to the Afterworld’s Gates."

We also read a slam of the book on Salon, "Dr. Eben Alexander’s so-called afterlife. A doctor says he proves heaven's existence in his bestselling book. Is that a symptom of meningitis or megalomania?"

Alexander claims he (or his soul) visited heaven while in a coma.

For what it's worth,  in 2006 our heart stopped in the hospital during a cardiac catheterization. We were dead for two minutes. We saw no butterflies, no bright lights, no angels. We were blacked out until we came to. After that we were fine.

Consider that event our disproof of heaven. And since we saw no heaven when we were "dead," does that mean we should cease being religious?

Is Nicki Minaj Jewish?

No Nicki Minaj is not a Jew.

Rap Genius says, "Onika Maraj, born December 8, 1982, known by her stage name Nicki Minaj, is a rapper. She was born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, and moved to Queens when she was five." Wikipedia says, "Her parents are of mixed Indian and Afro-Trinidadian ancestry."

Nicki does sing about God on one version of the hit song by Alicia Keyes, Girl On Fire (Inferno Version).

Her rap lyrics wrap up that incredible song:
[Nicki Minaj]
Dear God, If you’re here God
Make the fire disappear when they stare God
Take away my fear when they interfere God
Do you fear God? Cause I fear God
And in my backyard, that’s a deer, God
And that’s a horse ranch
And to my core fans keep repping me
Do it to the death of me
X in the box cause ain’t nobody checking me
The Rap Genius site (the Talmud of rap music) provides a click-on commentary on the lyrics here.

Is the Mayor of New York City Always Jewish?

No, the mayor of New York City is not always a Jew.

Though several of the past mayors were Jews, It looks like the next mayor will not be Jewish. The Times wrote today, "With No Major Jewish Candidate, an Unusual Absence in the N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race."

The Times reported on this matter:
In the 11 elections since a Jewish candidate, Abraham D. Beame, first won a Democratic mayoral primary in 1965, Jewish Democrats (Mr. Beame, Mr. Koch, Ruth W. Messinger and Mark Green) won the nomination six times. Jewish candidates were elected mayor seven times (Mr. Beame, Mr. Koch and Michael R. Bloomberg).

The last time no Jewish candidate of either party sought the nomination was in 1993, when David N. Dinkins ran for re-election and lost to Rudolph W. Giuliani. In 2001, when Mr. Green was facing Mr. Bloomberg, both major candidates were Jewish.

Wolpe Pans Oz

David Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, does not approve of the new book "Jews and Words" written by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger. Although Wolpe praises the book as, "lovely and unwittingly elegiac" in the end he rejects the idea that of a secular appreciation of Jewish religious literature like the Tanakh and the Talmud. See "Atheist of the Book: A grand old man of letters meets the literature of Judaism." An oversight not to give equal credit in the title of the review to the daughter and coauthor. Not surprising that Wolpe disapproves of Oz's incursion into rabbinic territories. He'd prefer the secular writer to stick to secular literature. Leave the religious books to the rabbis.

We deem the Oz's work perceptive and clever with some brilliant turns of the phrase and insights that could only come out of a collaboration of literary stars. And we find no problem with a secular approach to sacred writings, especially one that is mostly reverent, like this book by the Oz's.

To illustrate the wit of the book, consider this classic observation at the outset that certainly will be quoted often: "Ours is not a bloodline but a textline." We like that at last books have ceded primacy to texts. And the Oz's grant supremacy to literature over tribal affinity.

Of course this book makes no pretense to account for the whole story of the the Jews. For there is substance to saying that ours is heavily a bloodline. But when you write a book you determine its limits. In this tome (or poem) about Jews and words, no doubt the authors give priority to the texts.

Other Oz insights will delight the reader: "... Jewish textuality, indeed all textuality has come full circle. From tablet to tablet, from scroll to scroll."

We liked this one, "The web... is a labyrinthine library of letters, a mammoth maze of meanings and thus a very Talmudic space."

The publishers tell us about the author of the book, "They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations."

We say, Go forth and suggest!

And we pondered this promise by the authors, "Here is another thing our book tries to spell out: in Jewish tradition every reader is a proofreader, every student a critic, and every writer, including the Author of the universe, begs a great many questions."

Go forth then and get into the text line to buy and read this book and do those things: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization)


Start Today - Quit Smoking for Good

The Times has a good article on how to quit smoking.

The Cancer Society designated today as the great American smokeout day for this year.
The American Cancer Society is marking the 37th Great American Smokeout on November 15 by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting — even for one day — smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.
Smoking killed my mom in 2000. Chances are good that it will kill you too if you keep smoking. Quit.


The Talmud of Madoff and Wiesel: Review of a Drama at the Garage Theatre at FDU in Teaneck: Extended to November 18

We recommend that you go see the Madoff Drama at the Garage Theatre at FDU in Teaneck, now extended to November 18.

We saw it, and our instant review is that this is a worthy play and a spirited first-rate production by a polished professional group - and right here in our back yard!

Talmudic Review

There are Talmudic references in the script of "Imagining Madoff." But that is not what makes it a Talmudic play. No, it is Talmudic because it creates a drama of debate and dispute over cosmic issues brought down to earth as a dialogue between metaphoric characters. That is what the Talmud of Babylonia did for Jewish thought 1500 years ago.

This play is not about the real Bernie Madoff who was the greatest financial scammer in history, Nor is it about an Elie Wiesel type of character who represents a loud moral voice in an amoral world.

No this play is a work of Talmudic discourse where the playwright weaves into dialogues and discourses - a variety of dialectics about life. Deb Margolin has given the two main characters names, Madoff and Galkin. And she has created a third important woman character who sits and observes on the sidelines.

Throughout, this play has no real connection to actual persons living or dead. And that may be the case for much of the materials in the actual Talmudic literature as well. (But that is a topic for discussion in the learned world of academic publications.)

The Talmud is a long and engrossing work of literature that takes up numerous issues related to life and to Judaism, to men and to women, to emotions and to ideas, and puts them into the mouths of larger than life rabbinic figures.

And so is this play. Not quite as long as the Talmud, and not as comprehensive. Still playwright Margolin manages to raise penetrating moral, ethical, psychological and philosophical issues within the parameters of a three person drama.

Michael Bias dazzles in his understated and calm portrayal of the Bernard Madoff character, Though we never met the actual man, we imagine that Madoff must have put on a soft and remote persona to attract so much investment. Here Bias plays the busy earthy scheming human archetype, a foil for his lofty universal counterpart.

Thom Molyneaux excels as as that counterpart, the sage Solomon Galkin, with a persistent and learned character portrayal of a Wiesel substitute. We did meet Elie Wiesel and know him to be a masterful listener and a persistent voice of conscience. Molyneaux plays the rabbinic Galkin with such aplomb, we'd swear on a Bible that the actor is Jewish, if not Orthodox, though he is not.

And Mikeala Kafka shines as Madoff's secretary. She represents the perspective of the outsiders, both men and women, who watched as a great cosmic tragedy unfolded as the Madoff crisis unraveled. Here she stands in for the world at large - playing for us a single peripheral character who suffers stinging loss and humiliation when the tragic character falls. Many of us can identify with the perspective of the thoughtful and sensitive sideline casualty that Kafka creates. (And Kafka, what an ironic name for the actor that plays that character!)

Though this is a play mainly of monologues and dialogues, it moved quickly and never lagged or lost me. You'd be foolish to miss it. Hurry and get your tickets.

Go today and buy your tickets here. The Facebook page is here.

Summary from the Garage Theatre:
Our first play of the season is Imagining Madoff by Obie–Award winning playwright Deborah Margolin. It is a provocative, compelling and somewhat controversial piece. When Ms. Margolin sent Elie Wiesel the original version of the script that fictionalizes Wiesel’s real life betrayal by Bernard Madoff, the renowned author wrote back, threatening to take legal action against any production. Margolin revised the script, replacing the Wiesel character with the fictional Solomon Galkin, a poet, synagogue treasurer and translator whose moral bona fides and belief in Madoff's magic at once make for a crackling dramaturgical tension.

But above and beyond anything else, Imagining Madoff concerns itself with the terrible beauty and magnificent danger of absolute faith, either in God or in Men.

Imagining Madoff is a suspense drama crafted from a story that is already known. We share as an audience a sense, even to the end, that we can change what's already past.

It is a moral investigation.

Imagining Madoff is directed by Frank Licato and features Michael Bias as Bernard Madoff, Thom Molyneaux as Solomon Galkin, and Mikeala Kafka as Madoff's secretary.

There will be 12 performances of Imagining Madoff, Oct 25 – Nov 18. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Every Thursday is Bergen County Night. If you live or work in Bergen County, tickets are just $20.

At the conclusion of each performance there will be a talk back with the audience. The talk back will include the actors, director and the playwright. By giving our audience, both young and old, this opportunity, we hope to inspire a new generation of theatre goers.

All performances are at the Becton Theatre, 960 River Road on the FDU campus in Teaneck.


Happy Diwali to our Indian Friends

We wish our Indian friends, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist, a happy Diwali, their national Festival of Lights.

May the light of the diyas in their clay pots fueled with oil remind us to strive constantly on the part of good over the evil within ourselves and in our societies.

NYTimes Video: Surviving in the Rockaways

Some of the immensity of the destruction and suffering in our area is evident from The New York Times N.Y./REGION: "Surviving in the Rockaways" -- "Life is still far from normal for residents in the Rockaways. Two weeks after Sandy, thousands are without power and heat and there are few services available in the neighborhood."


Is David Petraeus Jewish?

No, former CIA Director David Petraeus is not a Jew. Petraeus is a Christian.

David Howell Petraeus was born in Cornwall, N.Y., on Nov. 7, 1952. His father, Sixtus, was a Dutch-born ship captain who met David's mother, Miriam, at the Seaman's Church Institute in New York.

Shortly after graduating from West Point, Petraeus married the daughter of the academy's superintendent, Holly Knowlton. Holly and David were married on July 6, 1974 at West Point's Cadet Chapel.


Right Wing Echo Chamber announces Sore Losers response to President Obama's victory

The right wing echo chamber, as broadcast by Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk, has announced the intent of the vast right wing conspiracy not to accept their presidential election defeat with grace or with good-sportsmanship, but to continue the negative rhetoric of the campaign and to behave badly as sore losers.

In Teaneck we have a rabbi sore loser (whose name will not be mentioned on this blog because he has been excommunicated from this blog) who can't say enough bad things in his opinions about the future of America in general and about people who voted for Obama in specific.

A succinct report on The Week describes the reactions of six slightly more important right wing sore losers to the Barack Obama victory in the presidential election.


Stunning Cell Phone - Samsung Galaxy S3

We upgraded our cell phone to the stunning Samsung Galaxy S3.

In particular we love the clarity of the display and the speed of the processor and the Android system. The battery is a weakness. Especially when Sprint's signal is hard to find, the battery runs down quickly.


Video: Mitt Romney's Mormon Religious Belief: There will be "a war that's coming in to kill all the Jews"

See this video clip. As part of his Mormon faith, Mitt Romney believes that there will be "a war that's coming in to kill all the Jews" (at about 1:35 in the video) and that Jesus will come to "split" the Mount of Olives to stop it and then he will reign in Jerusalem and Missouri.

Mitt gets defensive, argumentative and testy in this interview. It makes me worried and uncomfortable to hear that this man believes Jesus will come back and protect "all the Jews". I'd rather have a mainstream Protestant president like Barack Obama who supplies real sophisticated armaments to Israel.

Vote for Obama - Biden.

Vote for Barack Obama for re-election

We endorse Barack Obama, not just because we have a son named Barak. We believe in his politics and policies.

Although we expect Barack to win by a big margin, it is important that you go out and cast your vote for him.

This Times op-ed by Haim Saban makes a good case for Obama's support for Israel.

Obama's convention acceptance speech was inspiring.

We need a visionary liberal political leader in the White House. We do not need a CEO for the USA who sure would distribute more wealth to the wealthy and cut off costs and benefits from more and more workers.

We endorse Barack Obama for re-election.


Back to Teaneck with Power and Gas

Power is back. Gas in car.

Great losses all around due to the forces of the hurricane and the surge of the sea.

We need time to process all of this.

Here is a summary news report from jpost of how the storm's events affected Teaneck's Jewish community.